Remember reading? Not just tweets or Instagram posts or whatever came over your Reddit feed. But real books, with hundreds of pages and chapters that required a commitment of more time than what you could give during your bus or train commute, or with an audio book during your drive to and from work. You may have mastered working and schooling from home by now, but the weekends can seem pretty long without restaurants, movies and stores to visit.
Now is the time to dive into a good book. Whether you are looking for the break from reality offered by fiction or the education and inspiration that can be found in nonfiction, books by African-American writers are available in all genres. And check out Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription, which is free for two months for a limited time. And you don’t need a Kindle to access it, because there’s an app for that too.
Here are some suggestions for books:
1. It’s Not All Downhill from Here by Terry McMillan (Ballantine). When a sudden loss upends Loretha Curry’s full and happy life, she and her loyal friends band together to figure out how to keep thriving. Our girl is back with a hilarious and thought-provoking look at love, family and friendship as we age. From the bestselling author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Waiting to Exhale. Might be nice to revisit those favorites too.
2. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World, an imprint of Random House). This engrossing piece of historical fiction explores slavery from the perspective of Hiram Walker, who was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her — but was gifted with a mysterious power. This is Coates first novel, but hopefully not his last.
3. Sing, Unburied, Sing and Salvage the Bones both by Jesmyn Ward (Bois Sauvage) Both of these books won Ward the National Book Award. Her Southern-based, lyrical writing has been compared to that of Toni Morrison and William Faulkner.
4. Beloved by Toni Morrison (Knopf). If you haven’t yet read Morrison’s masterwork, now is the time. We lost the chronicler of the Black experience in August 2019, but she left us a marvelous legacy. And this novel of slavery and escape and hope and community is what made Morrison the first African-American winner of the Nobel Prize for fiction in 1993. But her whole canon is required reading, including The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon.
5. The Nickel Boys: A Novel by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday) Whitehead won his second Pulitzer Prize for Nickel Boys, which follows two boys struggling through their sentences at an abusive reform school under the specter of segregation in the 1960s. Time magazine hailed it as “a book that will further cement his place in the pantheon of influential American writers.” Oprah Winfrey chose his previous novel, The Underground Railroad, for her book club. That novel, which imagines the network of safe homes as a literal train, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Award in 2016.
6. Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard by Echo Brown (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt & Co., ages 12 and up). The young adult in your house will enjoy this realistic novel set in East Cleveland. The protagonist has a crackhead mother, younger siblings to care for and lives in a dangerous neighborhood. It starts off as a wretched, familiar story. But hang in there because this story takes a fun detour into high fantasy. Told through a series of magic-infused lessons on how to unlock one’s own quantum wizard, the book reads like a training manual for a superhero.
1.“More Myself: A Journey,” by Alicia Keys (Flatiron). Singer/songwriter Keys charts her growth as a woman and an artist, touching on private heartache, her complex relationship with her father, husband and children, her ethnicity and her journey of self-discovery. The writing sings just as much as her music.
2. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau). This 2015 book was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the National Book Award. It is written as a letter to the author’s teenage son about the feelings, symbolism and realities associated with being Black in the United States. If you want to continue in the Ta-Nehisi groove, read his 2014 piece for The Atlantic magazine about reparations for slavery. Find it here: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/
3. The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom (Grove Press). This memoir of the house Broom and her family grew up in, in New Orleans East won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2019. But it’s not about architecture; instead it explores the architecture of racism and poverty and how they conspire to limit those who dare aim to escape.
4. Becoming by Michelle Obama (Crown). This memoir from the first African-American first lady spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list, most of it at No. 1. If you haven’t gotten around to its inspiring story what are you waiting for? Be sure to check out the documentary out on Netflix.
5. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau). This bestseller published in 2014 was turned into a film starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx. The movie, about Stevenson’s early days as a lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and his eventually successful defense of a black man on death row for a crime he did not commit, won four NAACP Image Awards. But the book delves deeper into the lives of those Stevenson has defended and offers an inspiring argument against the death penalty and for compassion in the pursuit of true justice. By the way, Stevenson is also the force behind The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., dedicated to those African-American’s lynched in the U.S. When travel is allowed again, go see it if you haven’t already.
6. The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, with illustrations by Kadir Nelson (Versify, ages 6-9) Technically this book is for children in grades 1 – 4, but any adult will be inspired by this poetic chronicle of the some of the most iconic figures and movements in Black history. And the beautifully detailed paintings are impossible to resist. After reading this book, you will hopefully not only be informed, but also empowered and lifted. It’s a fabulous picture book to share with the child in your life.
— Stephania H. Davis teaches Communication at Manchester Community College in Manchester, Connecticut.